Pontus Alv has been immersed in skateboarding for a long time and is someone who has defined his role in that world on his terms. His output has always been of a high standard and his perfectionist approach to whatever the task he has in hand be it filming, building a spot, skating that spot or making a video is one which has gifted skateboarding as a whole. This level of consideration, dedication and involvement is what has made his company Polar one of the most interesting and successful out there right now. We caught up with Pontus at Stockwell on the recent Surf ‘N’ Turf tour to see where he is at and discuss all things Polar…
We are here at Stockwell on the last day of the Polar tour, are you exhausted or could you continue your travels?
I’m pretty tired I must say, I want to go home and see my girl and rest. It’s hard for me, i’m 34 now. Definitely it’s hard to be out just living, eating, shitting skateboarding 24 hours a day. Normally when I skate, I’ll skate one day and rest two days then skate another day maybe two days in a row if I’m hyped. I love travelling, it’s super fun to be on the road, see all the kids. I could probably do it for another week if I had to but it would be nice to see my girl, I think that would be a great thing.
You are a well seasoned UK visitor but have any places surprised you on this trip?
I’ve never really been to the South of the UK. I liked all of the places, I like the UK in general. For some reason I always get really inspired skating, I really like small shit holes for some reason. I always liked the idea that there is absolutely nothing and you have to make something out of it. I like the idea of it that there’s a small town, there’s maybe one spot that’s as crusty as hell. Nobody ever came there, it’s like untouched land. I like that idea. When you come to London, you go to spots and you know that at this spot this dude did that and another dude did this. So you just try to take out other dudes tricks, add to a list of tricks. I like it out there in no mans land because it’s all new and fresh. No-one has been there and nobody will probably ever go there again. There’s no issue with who did this and that, you have it all to yourself.
I’m sure you would have spent the maximum amount of time searching out spots at every destination. Is there any where you feel you just scratched the surface of and want to re-visit?
In general this tour has mostly been about visiting shops, seeing kids and doing demos. That’s been the main focus of the trip so there wasn’t much time to search or go deep into it. Everywhere had potential, Bristol, Oxford, Bournemouth, Portsmouth. I really liked the South, I like the ocean. I really feel at home when I’m close to the ocean, I like the idea of being next to the beach. I really liked Bournemouth, that was my favourite place on the trip. It was a really nice small beach town, I liked the vibe there. Holiday town, tourism mixed with old English architecture.
Did you have a good grasp of how popular Polar is here before you came?
Yeah, I see the sales so I knew. The UK is our biggest market in the world. Since day one the support has been massive here. There’s a really cool scene here in the UK in general, it’s still controlled and run by skaters in a lot of cases. Skate shops and the people who run the industry here are skaters and they really care about the brands they support and what they support. In a lot of other markets it’s different. They don’t think about it, they don’t want to support new things or small things or cool things that they are into they just buy whatever, the classic old brands. So the UK has always been amazing for us. I think the stuff we do, the graphics, the skating, the videos and the whole aesthetic of the company fits into the conditions of the UK. We deal with the same shit, Winters, shit weather, crusty spots and trying to make the most out of it. It’s the same shit where I’m from so i think it really connects to the people here.
Are there more team trips on the cards in the immediate future or are you going to have a break?
Yeah we are doing some stuff. We are coming back to London for a launch that we are doing. It is a Polar collaboration with Converse so I will be back with one or two riders for that. Straight after that there is a launch in New York which is the day after! Then after that home and at the same time as launching that project we are launching the Polar x Carhartt collaboration which will also be in London so I might be in London twice in the same week then Copenhagen. At the end of the year in October or November we are doing a Polar tour in Japan. We will get some of the boys out there, five or six of us to Japan for a ten day trip.
You have taken the reigns production wise with all of the items you produce as a company. Is this something you are looking to constantly improve? Are there even more ambitious things you want to manufacture?
Yeah, I have so many ideas of things that I want to do. Designing and running a company there are so many things that you want to do, cool jackets or rails or crazy grip tape or bearings. I want to do more hardgoods, wheels and so on but I have a very high standard with all of the things we produce. I don’t want to just go to the first factory in China and get some crap made. In general I don’t produce anything in China at the moment. It’s really hard, I have a shit load of ideas but it’s sourcing the factories to make them happen that have the right conditions who will make something that’s good quality that you are proud of. It’s time consuming. If you want to make a set of rails where do you start? I don’t know. It’s not like you just look in the yellow pages, skateboard rails, call this number!
Are you still doing everything yourself?
I have an agent who helps me with the clothing but as far as designing and everything it’s me and Jacob Ovgren. He does a lot of the graphic design for the boards, I do some of that too. As far as sourcing factories, designing the actual product, fits, cuts, material, quality that’s all me. It’s a shit load of work plus trying to be a team manager, going on a tour, promoting the brand, trying to skate. I don’t really see myself any more as a pro skater, I still have a board out. Working with Carhartt and Converse you know I’m so busy. My life is like I do five jobs at the moment which is not really what I want to do but it’s hard to find good people that understand. I try to work with other people but a lot of times I just end up doing it myself because I can and they don’t have the same vision as me. It’s really hard to find someone who understands what I want to do and make it better.
One of our favourite Pontus ads – Photo – Sam Ashley
Polar’s beginnings weren’t particularly slow, the company had a good momentum from the start and it’s popularity whilst juggling so many responsibilities was perhaps at points overwhelming. Have you reached a point where things feel under control?
Yeah, to cut a long story short. Before this company I had my videos, my own platform with my own following. I was pretty naive, I wanted to start a small skateboard brand and do it super good. I wouldn’t say at all exclusive but just a small little thing. That small little thing in three months pretty much became a global thing really fast. Distribution all over the world, people picking it up and wanting to join in and get it. It was a big shock, in the beginning I had never run a company before, I knew nothing about it, I didn’t have a partner so it was me doing everything. Learning, going through some hard mistakes business wise and dealing with a lot of fucked up people, getting fucked over by some idiots and so on. The first two and a half years were a big big fight to solve all the shit. Finally at the beginning of this year I moved the company to the UK with my old UK distributor Keen distribution. Mike, he became my partner and now we only produce stuff with Generator. I used China before through this agent in Germany, it was a fucking nightmare. No more bullshit in China with kids working in bullshit conditions, it’s now all Generator. Clothing production is always a nightmare because of so many things. We do a couple of production runs with things, it takes a while for everything to settle in to perfection. Over all we work with the people we want to work with and sell to the stores we want to, we have good people around us. Everything is under control but it’s not because I do five jobs, how can I possibly do more and there is loads more work to be done. I need a website, a web store, I need a video to come out. There is so much work to be done and I still have to keep the deadlines for board graphics, production and clothing production.
Is the video shaping up?
The video is done as far as filming. We are still going on trips and everyone is fine tuning, getting the last bits. I could pretty much sit down tomorrow and start editing and it would be fine. I would like to have a few more things in there myself, I’m not that happy with the things I have but under the circumstances what can I expect? Running a global company and trying to film a video part at the same time is not fucking easy. The footage is there and it’s going to come out in Spring 2015, that’s realistic. Winter is coming, in the Summer time you want to be out skating, filming, travelling and enjoying the sun not sit inside a dark room editing a video. I will start editing I would say in mid October and lock myself up for the Winter. It’s going to be a big one.
The most ambitious one yet?
I definitely have a lot of ideas for it and I definitely have the material to make something amazing. I think the challenge for all videos these days is to try and not make them too long. It could be an hour long video but I don’t want it to be an hour, I want it to be 25 or maximum thirty minutes long. I have to kill a lot of footage and be very very selective. We will come out with some little clips before. Next month we have some stuff we’ve been working on. I’m not stressing, kids are hyped, people are psyched and good shit takes time. From my side I don’t want to be a part of this whole internet clip consuming skateboarding. You know, put out a clip just to get your brand out there. Throw some shit out there and you wash out your whole team. You want to save some mystery. You want the people and the kids to wonder, what’s going on? They’re working on something and it’s exciting. When it drops I want it to change something, i want it to mean something. I’m really over these shitty web clips that come out every week. Nobody remembers it and it doesn’t mean shit. It’s cool sometimes but I don’t want to be a part of it, I’d rather completely close the doors and then drop something where people haven’t seen anything like it before. I don’t want to hype it up too much or anything but I think we have a couple of cards up our sleeve that are going to be sick for people to watch.
Do you have any other projects on the boil that are motivating you outside of all of it?
I’m involved in so much stuff at the moment with this company, doing a lot of things with Converse. Developing things over there and having a voice. We want to do more shoes with them in the future. We are already working on things down the line, I have my input there and the same with Carhartt so it keeps me busy. The main thing is if I had more time, my only goal is to spend that time on doing new shit for Polar. I have a lot of ideas and the great thing about it is that with a company you can finance it. You can afford to say lets order some trucks and build something, you can do these crazy ideas and it’s fun, the world is kind of wide open. For me at the end of the day I want to see kids out there hyped on skating, hyped on graphics, hyped on videos, hyped on the culture of skateboarding. At the end of the day that is the aim. Make kids hyped and stoked to be a skateboarder.
You recently wanted to stop being a sponsored skateboarder, what happened there?
I still do. My point of view is that I don’t think i should be paid as a skateboarder. I don’t want to milk the cow. My time is up, I have done the things I wanted to do on a skateboard, I pushed my limits to the max, fulfilled my ideas. I feel really complete and finished with it, I do enjoy skating still. I love TBS, my spot, outside my house and I go there every week. I still enjoy doing that but I don’t want to a so called professional skater who has to go to a demo and have to impress kids or film full video parts and be doing interviews in magazines and adverts. I’m not saying i want to retire I just don’t want to be having the pressure on me that I have to do it. I just want to skate for Polar and be involved with all these other things but I don’t want tone officially a rider. Just skate for myself, if I skate for myself it’s always worked the best for me. Naturally I feel good and have a good time and maybe get a couple of clips or a photo. I just don’t think I should be getting paid anymore. I think it’s time for all these young kids and this new generation like David and Oski and Hjalte and Aaron and so on. It’s time for them to shine, it’s their time. This company is no longer about me. I’m the face, the brain, the creator of it but I want them to be the focus, the guys in the spotlight.
What’s the best thing you have seen this trip?
In all the towns, in London too but in Oxford, Bristol, Bournemouth and so on it’s been amazing to see all the kids, the fans, the support from shop owners. The turn out has been amazing. We had some really good demos, David and Oski and Aaron and Hjalte and the guys skated and put on a really good show in some of the parks. It was really mind blowing. For me, sitting back and knowing where it all started from nothing and watching 200 kids screaming, wearing Polar shirts with Polar boards and rolling up and being super hyped. It’s just sick to see the fans and all the kids who support it and are hyped on it. Of course we saw some really amazing transition skating and just rad sessions with the locals. I think David did the trick of the trip, he did a nose grind tail grab on that massive wall in Dean lane at the skate park in Bristol, there’s a quarter pipe to a wall. It’s cool when you see a crazy trick like that go down at a demo and then you see hundreds of kids screaming, it’s a rad feeling. I get hyped, they get hyped. Talking to the kids after the demos and they are saying it’s the best day of their life. I like that, it’s groundwork, we are giving back to the kids. Talking to them, skating with them, giving them some stickers. They are the ones who support you and they are the future of this culture. They are the ones we need to shape and inspire to become rad grown up skaters who will make this culture live for a long time.
Photography – Maksim Kalanep
Interview by Jacob Sawyer